Collaboration vs Cooperation

They sound similar, and are often conflated, but what are key differences and reasons why you might want to work collaboratively instead of just cooperatively?

Agile frameworks succeed precisely because they allow people the flexibility to work collaboratively. In teams that collaborate everyone is contributing to the same end goal. Collaboration, though, is an active process of team members focusing on getting the work done that’s needed to get the entire team across the line whereas cooperation often ends up being quite passive where team members simply don’t get in each other’s way.

“…group cooperation yields the sum of its parts, while collaboration yields a sum that is greater than its parts”.

– Lyssa Adkins (2010) Coaching Agile Teams

To my mind, this is why it takes time and patience for a team to transform themselves into a high functioning Agile team. To move from being a cooperative team to a collaborative takes time, effort, & a willingness to change the culture of the workplace. Skeptics are often dismissive until they see the results for themselves, this can often be seen in the way they approach their Daily Scrum. The differences between new and more mature teams can be quite stark when observing how the members of the Development Team interact during this key event.

Practiced Teams Novice Teams
Self-organised discussion with give and take central to the work at hand Scrum Master needs to push the team and its conversation along
Planning for the day Status report to Scrum Master
Conversation on who needs help Conversation on personal tasks

Collaboration is the goal for effective teams with cooperation being a foundational component.

Matthew Hodgson

Matthew Hodgson

Founder of Zen Ex Machina. Scrum/Agile Coach. Designer of digital experiences since 1992. International presenter. UX & psych geek. Chocoholic. Loves red wine.

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